Down by Law

Down by Law

Down by Law

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 14 2002 7:44 AM

Down by Law

The Los Angeles Times and the New York Times lead with the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, which the NYT calls the "the emotional heart of the Catholic Church in America." Law has been accused of covering up—and, to an extent, perpetuating—the sex abuse scandals in his archdiocese. The Washington Post off-leads the resignation, going instead with the revival of the smallpox vaccine. Half a million U.S. armed forces personnel, another 10 million or so medical workers, and the commander in chief himself will soon be inoculated.

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"It would be naive to presume that the problem is now solved and the crisis is now over," a Boston College professor says in the LAT. With Law's resignation, focus will now shift to the next tier of bishops implicated in the scandal, perhaps resulting in a domino effect. "Bishop McCormack, we're coming after you," says one of the victim/activists in the NYT, referring to the New Hampshire bishop who was a top aide to Law and dealt with abuse cases. "For every document I've seen with the name Bernard Law, I've seen 100 with the name Bishop McCormack."

The sex-abuse scandal started in January in Boston when the Boston Globe successfully sued for documents relating to the case of Father Geoghan, a priest accused of molesting 130 boys over three decades, the NYT reports. A flood of accusations against dozens of priests followed. Documents showed that Law had known of some of the incidents and was sympathetic to the abusers, shuffling them around to different parishes and leaving them in a position to prey upon more victims.

Lay church groups have been calling for Law's resignation for several months, but the last straw may have been a recent letter signed by 58 priests asking him to go. "What made this decision almost compulsive was the letter of the priests," says a Vatican official in the NYT, adding that when priests override their vows of obedience and openly revolt against their bishop, "it's impossible to govern the diocese."

The Boston archdiocese, faced with over $100 million in lawsuits, is considering bankruptcy, a move many would consider a shirking of its financial responsibility to the victims, according to the NYT. Law, meanwhile, will remain a cardinal, eligible for some other position within the church. 

By this summer, any average American who wants it will be able to obtain the smallpox vaccine, according to administration officials quoted in the WP lead. For now, only the above average—a large chunk of the military, plus medical "responders" and Bush himself (though not his family and staff)—will be privy to the vaccine and its harsh side effects, which include death for 1 or 2 of every million recipients. There is an antidote, however, which will be widely available this summer as well. What's missing is evidence that Iraq or someone else is in possession of the virus and poised to use it as a weapon. "I'm not a security expert, but if you are going to ask people to use a vaccine with known and significant side effects, then you've got to make a very good case that the risk of exposure to the disease is real, tangible, quantitative and worth the risk you are going to take with your patients," says a former CDC chief.

Everybody fronts the resignation of Henry Kissinger from his brief tenure as chairman of the committee to investigate the Sept 11 attacks. In a letter to Bush, Kissinger cited a personal conflict, namely his unwillingness to reveal, as part of his required financial disclosure, the names of the clients of his consulting firm, the NYT reports. It was the second resignation from the committee this week—George Mitchell dropped out on Wednesday, also for personal reasons.

Trent Lott is on all the front pages, back with another apology for his unseemly endorsement of segregation at Strom Thurmond's birthday party last week. Lott will go on BET next week for an hour to discuss his enlightened views on race, the WP reports. In the meantime, he will try to persuade his fellow Republicans that he should still be their leader in the Senate. "It's not a matter of if [Lott steps down as leader], it's a matter of when," says an unnamed political consultant "close to the White House" in the LAT. "I'm not about to resign for an accusation that I'm something I'm not,'' Lott says in the WP.

Finally, an Arts & Ideas piece in the NYT dissects Al Gore's recent flurry of TV appearances, culminating in tonight's Saturday Night Live, which the self-effacing former VP is hosting. Although he was generally game, there was a flatulence skit that proved to be too much, even for him. "I'm sure this is funny," he reportedly said. "But at the end of this I want to have some bread crumbs leading back to my dignity." It's not clear whether Gore wrote that line himself or how many times he rehearsed it before unleashing it on the public.

Bill O'Brien is a freelance writer living in Manhattan.